As Private Eye’s spoof Jeremy Corbyn column always starts, “Hello, it’s me again.” Those of you relieved by my revelation last year that I’m hoping to retire and hand the Editorship over to a suitable successor will no doubt be disappointed to know this! But as wishful thinking gives way to reality, it’s taking longer than I had imagined: it seems I’ll be here for a few more issues yet. Planning continues apace behind the scenes though, and good possibilities are evolving. I enter my 40th year at the helm feeling confident that I’ll get let off for good behaviour and awarded my cardboard sundial before the 40th anniversary in a year’s time.
The good news, though, is that we were absolutely thrilled by the reception our new! bigger! better quality! quarterly-style Spring issue got. It’s a very British thing that most people only ever bother to make contact when they want to complain about something. We’ve got used to assuming that our readers are happy with the magazine simply because they regularly re-subscribe in industry-bogglingly high percentages. So when the congratulatory emails and social media messages began to flood in, it genuinely and happily took me by surprise. And there’s been a good net gain in subscriptions too. Phew, hurrah, etc.
It seems that a substantial physical product that you can get really stuck into is what many of you like. Quite a few commented that a big satisfying read once a quarter was far more likely to be enjoyed in depth than a monthly one which comes around too often and sometimes only gets skimmed. You like the contemporary non-glossy, non-shouty look and weighty feel with better paper. You even like the smell of it! And hardly anybody complained about the new price: after all, twice the price for double the size, with more than double the editorial content, is hardly a rip-off. And as I pointed out to the couple of doubters, cut it in half horizontally, place one half on top of the other, and you’ve got the physical equivalent of a nearly 300-page paperback book. Oh yes!
I personally want to give a massive “thank you” to longtime Deputy Editor Sarah Coxson who left us at the end of April to concentrate on her artist agency work and a better quality of life in her new home in North Wales. They say that nobody is indispensable but Sarah will come very close to it. She first came to fRoots in the mid-1980s to do a week’s work experience for her A-levels, and throughout various life and career changes, never really left! We know her input will continue to be invaluable as we navigate the current changes. And not just trouser criticism.
Personal acquaintances of our long-retired Reviews editor Stella Washburn will welcome her daughter Lily to the Reviews and News desk, with talented assistants. There have of course been other changes behind the scenes to reflect necessarily different work patterns which concentrate around issue pre-press and publication times and go quieter at others. As a result of changing to quarterly, key staff roles have altered and at the longer quiet periods have become part-time: our apologies if you don’t always get an immediate response to emails and voicemail messages at those points. Thanks to everybody (and in particular our long-suffering staff) for adapting to this!
And so to music… There have been a number of times in the past when, purely by accident rather than intention, we’ve had entire issues where all the features have been on women artists. We deliberately never flagged those up, why should we? And I’ve occasionally gone back and done a tot-up of the numbers of different categories of artists who have featured on our covers over the preceding few years: generally, without trying, solo women and men have been in balance and mixed-gender bands/duos (or the occasional all-women ones) have greatly exceeded the all-male. Which is as it should be, yes?
But a growing amount of very justifiable miffed-ness by women artists, particularly in Scotland, over gender balance on festival bills, followed by the widely criticised Folk Awards all-male ‘Musician Of The Year’ nominees list, made it clear that just doing our silent bit for equality wasn’t enough. And it was also obvious that, if we were going to stand up and make a point, then Elizabeth Kinder – as a musician herself (buy her a pint of Babycham and she’ll tell you her CV) – was the writer to set on it. However, even I wasn’t prepared for the worm can it opens. It’s the sort of feature that I’m really proud to have published. 6000-plus words. Because we can.
I’m also really pleased to have shone a backward spotlight this issue on the 1965 Keele Folk Festival. It seems that these days most festivals – there are obvious exceptions – are really little more than a series of differently sized concert stages and sideshows. Perhaps the sort of talking workshops and discussions presented by experts that Keele specialised in more than fifty years ago deserve to be brought back. There are many out there with years of accumulated experience and knowledge that deserves to be passed on or debated, and our whole musical world could benefit from it.